85 mph! Texas to open toll highway with fastest speed limit in nation: Now driving across Texas isn't a career
The claim that "everything is bigger in Texas" will likely gain further clout later this year, when the speed limit on a stretch of toll road between Austin and San Antonio hits 85 miles per hour — the highest limit in the country. Constructions crews on Wednesday began posting 85-mph speed limit signs along a pending section of toll road on Texas' State Highway 130. This 41-mile stretch of highway, which will open for traffic by Nov. 11, is on the east side of Austin and heads southwest toward San Antonio.
Chris Lippincott, an official with the State Highway 130 Concession Co., said that the Texas Department of Transportation has determined that this area is safe to travel at 85 mph. We are committed to operating a safe, reliable highway for our customers," Lippincott said in a statement. "On any road, drivers hold the key to safety based on traffic, travel conditions and the capabilities of their own vehicles."
Since the repeal of the 55-mph national speed limit for U.S. highways in 1995, 34 states have individually raised their speed limits to 70 mph or higher on portions of their roads, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Other roads in the Lone Star State also have high speed limits: On some highways in rural West Texas, drivers can legally cruise as fast as 80 mph, The Associated Press reported. Utah is the only other state in the country with posted speeds at 80 mph, with that as the limit on portions of Interstate 15, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety believes higher speed limits have a costly trade-off.
"There’s a clear safety downside to raising safety limits," spokesperson Russ Rader told NBC News. "The research is absolutely clear that high speed limits lead to higher crash deaths."
Rader cited a 2009 study that found that in more than 10 years of follow-up after the 1995 federal speed limit repeal, an estimated 12,545 American deaths were attributed to increased speed limits.
"If safety were a priorty, states would not be raising speed limits," Rader said. "They would be finding ways to heavily enforce speed limits they have."
The National Motorists Association, an advocacy organization originally rooted in fighting the 55-mph national limit, believes higher speeds are a "win-win" situation.
"Based on what we have heard about it, the Texas Department of Transportation did in fact do their required homework to make this happen," spokesperson John Bowman said.
"The prevailing wisdom is setting the speed low," Bowman said, so there is a pressure to set low speed limits. However, he said they believe that legitimate studies often find that the speeds on roads should be raised.
"There’s a myth that when you increase speed limits, accidents and fatalities go up," Bowman claimed.
According to Bowman, higher speeds can actually increase highway safety by letting traffic flow at is own rate, reducing conflicts between vehicles, less stopping and starting, and fewer quick lane changes.
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